The Coal House - Final Three Families Announced to travel back to 1927!

Three Welsh families to travel back to 1927 – Coal House final three announced

Three Welsh families have been hand-picked to live in 1927 for four weeks this autumn.

The families will travel back in time to live life as it was in a mining community in 1927 as part of BBC Wales’ ambitious Coal House television series, which will be broadcast on BBC One Wales and BBC Two.

Each family will leave all 21st century luxuries behind when they enter a tiny miner’s cottage at Stack Square, Blaenavon later this October. With no bathroom, central heating or running water, it will be downshifting in the extreme.

The three Coal House families – selected from more than 150 applicants – are:

The Cartwright family from Penarth
The Griffiths family from Cardigan
The Phillips family from Cowbridge

The reasons the families gave for wanting to be part of the programme ranged from wanting a better understanding of their own mining heritage and family history to the novelty of spending time together without the technological trappings of modern-day life.

For the selection process, each family was tested on initiative, stamina and team-working as well as undergoing psychological tests to find out how they might cope with the stresses of life in the Coal House.

They now have two weeks to prepare for the harsh reality of life in 1927. During their four weeks in the cottages, each member of every family will have their stamina tested in different ways.

For the men and boys over 14 there will be the physical test of long walks to work over mountainous terrain in all weather, to face a long day as coal miners hacking away at the coal face on hands and knees, shovelling coal and cutting pit props at Blaentillery Drift Mine – the last working mine of its kind in the UK.

Meanwhile the women will have to run the home under 1927 conditions, keeping the children fed, watered and clean without the benefit of supermarkets, washing machines, ready meals or cars. Even making a cup of tea will involve the hard work of collecting water from a pump and lighting a fire. When the men and boys return from work covered in coal dust, the women will have to find enough hot water to fill a tin bath.

With no televisions, mobile phones or computers, children will have to make their own entertainment as well as being educated according to the curriculum of the time.

“In 1927, coal was the lifeblood of Wales, and through the Coal House project we want to capture a way of life and a time which will soon be lost forever,” said BBC Wales Executive Producer Martyn Ingram.

“When these adventurous families enter the cottages they will effectively enter a time-travel bubble, going back in time and stepping into a real life history – and the real beauty of it is that the rest of the country can share their experiences through television, radio and online.”

Action from the Coal House will air three evenings a week – Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays – on BBC One Wales and on BBC Two.

The Coal House families

The Cartwright family from Penarth

Joe Cartwright, 48, is a Professor of Geology at Cardiff University

Annabel Cartwright, 50, is an Astrophysicist at Cardiff University

Gwen Cartwright, 12, is a pupil at Stanwell Comprehensive School

Kitty Cartwright, 11, is a pupil at Sully Primary School

Joe has been working in Arizona in the run up to Coal House, walking for miles in the heat each day, which he hopes will help with stamina. The family are members of CADW and frequent visitors to historic sites, so when they saw an article on Coal House they knew it was for them.

They are especially excited about stepping into history rather than just looking at it. The children say they will miss their West Highland Terrier Bertie, as well as Bebo and MSN.

They will all miss being able to jump in the car. Annabel says she will miss everything about her life, but they love family adventures (they’ve travelled New Zealand for six weeks and lived in USA for three months).

Joe’s father went to work in the pit at 14, as did both his grandfathers. His great-great grandfather was killed in a mining accident.

The Griffiths family from Cardigan

Cerdin Griffiths, 46, is a lorry driver, originally from Ffostrasol near Pendysul

Debra Griffiths, 39, is a housewife and will celebrate her 40th birthday in the Coal House

Steffan Griffiths, 13, is a pupil at Cardigan Secondary School

Angharad Griffiths, 12, is a pupil at Cardigan Secondary School

Gethin Griffiths, 8, is a pupil at Cardigan Junior School

The Griffiths gang are the only family of the three to speak Welsh, and it is the language they use together at home.

Debra has mining heritage on her mother’s side of the family – her grandfather was a miner. The family’s main reason for wanting to go back to 1927 is to try life in a simpler time, without computers, mobile phones, after-school activities and all the trappings of modern day life.

As in many families, the Griffiths children spend quite a lot of time on the computer and on Playstation, so they find they do not communicate as much as they would like, and they want to use this opportunity to spend quality time together as a family (a common theme among the Coal House families).

Debra will celebrate her 40th birthday in the Coal House, which in 1927 was considered a relatively mature age (the average life expectancy then was shorter both for women and men, partly due to the lifestyle of hard manual labour).

The Phillips family from Cowbridge

Richie Phillips, 33, is a carpenter, builder and coal merchant

Stephanie Phillips, 40, is a housewife

Jade Foley, 16, is Stephanie’s daughter and a pupil at Cowbridge Comprehensive School

Ryan Foley, 14, is Stephanie’s son and a pupil at Cowbridge Comprehensive School

Daniel Foley, 8, is Stephanie’s son and a pupil at Y Bont Faen Primary School

Katie Phillips, 8, is Richie’s daughter and a pupil at Y Bont Faen Primary School

Rhodri Phillips, 2, is the son of Stephanie and Richie

Gwennan Phillips, 1, is the daughter of Stephanie and Richie

Richie’s great-grandfather was killed in the Parc Slip mining disaster and was the same age that Richie is now, with a young family. He says it is a subject that is talked about in his family still.

Richie also says he would do anything to be cut off from hearing gossip about Posh and Becks, Pete Doherty and Amy Winehouse, and Steph shares his disinterest in the world of celebrity. He is used to working outdoors so says he will find it strange to work in the mines.

Stephanie has no mining heritage. With six children (two still in nappies) she thinks she will miss her washing machine most of all. She is dreaming about Coal House at night, and every day she thinks of something else she will miss.

She also worries about how much food they get through as a family and how they will cope under 1927 conditions, but she says they live a relatively simple life and hopes they may not have as much of a shock as others.

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  • Paula Williams

    When will I be able to buy “The Coal House” on dvd please???

  • Cristian

    I think a royal caribbean would be more like a prize than travelling back to 1927… What’s the fun in that? no internet, no tv, no almost anything that I have in 2008.

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